Almost two decades after Concorde retired, President Putin has said he hopes to use blueprints for his flagship supersonic heavy bomber as a basis for a passenger jet. The Tu-160, which is the worlds largest, heaviest and fastest variable-sweep wing aeroplane ever made, has just undergone a major modernisation program. Known to NATO as Blackjack, the aircraft has been a pillar of the Russian Air Force for more than 30 years.
Now, President Putin has indicated he wants manufacturer Tupolev to build a version of the aircraft that can carry passengers across the world’s largest country.
Speaking in Kazan, Russia’s sixth most populous city and home to one of Tupolev’s main manufacturing plants, Mr Putin praised the upgraded bomber, which features updates to its electronics, engine and arsenal.
Russian news agency Interfax quoted President Putin as saying: “We have now implemented a brilliant project in Kazan, in fact, we have created a new Tu-160 for the armed forces — a supersonic combat bomber.”
“And not only the carrier itself, but also its weapons were finalised.”
Mr Putin added: “Everything runs like clockwork.”
The Tu-160 has been involved in several cases which have angered Western countries in “buzzing” incidents, whereby US, Canadian and British jets have been scrambled to escort one of the bombers which has flown too close or into rivals’ airspace.
Tu-160s have also recently flown to Venezuela where Russia is supporting embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who the US is trying to replace with the country’s National Assembly President Juan Guaido.
Russia has offered political and financial assistance to Mr Maduro but has not given official military support.
During the factory visit, Mr Putin floated his ambitions for the future of the Tu-160 project by adding: “Why not create a supersonic passenger plane?”
The comment echoed previous remarks made by the Russian President on the Tu-160 when he visited the same plant in January last year.
During that visit, Mr Putin said: “We are now discussing the need to think about the civilian version of such an aircraft.”
Mr Putin explained Russia’s vast size demanded a civilian version of the bomber.
He added: “With such a huge territory like ours, from Moscow to New York it is not much longer to fly than to Vladivostok”, the largest city in Russia’s far east which is the home port of its Pacific naval fleet and lies 4,000 miles away from Moscow.
Should the remodelled Tu-160 be built, it would not be Tupolev’s first foray into supersonic civilian aircraft.
In the 1960s, the aerospace and defence company built the Tu-144, a jet remarkably similar to Concorde but which only saw one year of service before being retired for budgetary reasons.
British Airways and Air France jointly decided to mothball Concorde in 2003 for the same reason.
However the notion of supersonic passenger travel has undergone a resurgence with numerous aircraft manufacturers launching projects to put supersonic commercial flights back on the departure board.
NASA, Boom Supersonic, Aerion and Boeing are all hoping to fly passengers at twice the speed of sound again.